Historical fiction detailing the formation of, and competition between, different Christian sects.
One of the weaknesses of the popular religious thriller The Da Vinci Code is the book’s introductory list of “facts” that many scholars find dubious. The story may be engaging, but the scholarship on which it sits is shaky. Durrett’s work has a similar flaw; however, with a flat narrative and a cast of two-dimensional characters, Gnostics doesn’t overcome the simplistic research on which it is based to become a compelling tale. The book begins nearly 2,000 years ago in Palestine: Jesus is dead and his followers are bereft. When all seems lost, the risen Christ appears to his lover and dearest disciple, Mary Magdalene, and tells her to found a new church in France based on his secret teachings. Meanwhile, Jesus’ male disciples are to stay behind and begin what will one day become Roman Catholicism, though Mary’s church—made up of members called, by turns, Gnostics, Cathars or Perfecti—will someday eclipse theirs and become the universal world religion. Then fastforward 12 centuries, to a time when Catholic overreach threatens to destroy Cathar spirituality forever through a series of violent purges. Durrett’s plotline—most of which focuses on a trio of 13th-century Cathar women—shows promise but his overt spiritual concerns often overwhelm the story. In the book’s introduction, the author argues that world Catholicism is nearly extinct and that the re-establishment of Cathar Gnosticism is imminent. These claims are unbelievable but, more damaging, they drag down the tale of Mary Magdalene and her spiritual heiresses. Further, the author’s understanding of first-century Christianity is simplistic and sometimes misleading. A world conspiracy against Cathar religion is a fun idea, but lacks historical support. Also, Durrett’s detailed explanation of Cathar spirituality is always distractingly close to the surface.
A potentially engaging tale undercut by its basis in specious history and its unsatisfying occupation of a gray area between novel and creed.